Girls with Tattoos is a project in celebration of female and tattoo beauty, inspired by lots of things…
– questions I’ve been asked about my own tattoos and the wider questions these raise about expectations of female appearance /
– a love of illustration and admiration of the skill of top-notch tattooists /
– factors which affect female body image /
– a wish to share positive stories and images from tattoo owners/
I’m really pleased that Anneliese agreed to be my fourth participant…
Name: Anneliese Mackintosh / What I do: Writer / Live: Falmouth, Cornwall / Age: 34
How many tattoos do you have?
Eleven, although one of them (a heart) is covered up by another tattoo (roses and blackberries).
What inspires the subject matter of your tattoos? Is there a general theme?
These days, I mostly go for animals and flowers. I think they fit the shape of the body well, and I like the symbolic tradition attached to them both. All of my tattoos symbolise something to me, whether it’s family, achievement, or struggle.
Expanding on themes, do you have stories behind some of your tattoos? If yes, can you tell us some?
I started getting big tattoos after a very traumatic few years of my life, around the time my dad died. The first of these tattoos was the group of roses tattooed down my right arm. I’d been drinking heavily for a while, and when I stopped, I had the arm I used to pick up my wine glass with tattooed, as a reminder not to go down that dangerous route again. Roses symbolise all sorts of things – for me, the yellow rose represents new beginnings, the pink is for recovery, and the orange is for positivity. The red rosebud is for the growth of new passions.
Once I began to feel a bit better, I became braver in all aspects of my life, and I got a wolf tattooed down my right rib cage to remind me of my inner strength. I had nearly all of it done in one six-hour setting, and it certainly did take a lot of strength to sit through it! Definitely the most painful tattoo I’ve had done.
The octopus on my left thigh is about transformation, the importance of remaining fluid and growing as a person. Someone once commented on the fact that ‘I had changed’ over the last decade, as if that was a bad thing, and the octopus is a reminder of the positive aspects of change. Octopuses are very cool. For instance, if they lose a tentacle, they can grow a new one.
The kestrel on my arm reminds me of a family incident, where we rescued a baby kestrel that had been stuck down our chimney, and my dad set it free in the garden.
I also have: a Roald Dahl quotation, a Henry Miller quotation, my dad’s initials and his company logo, and the outline of a bird taken from the cooker in my grandparents’ caravan.
I don’t believe it’s necessary for tattoos to have meanings behind them; I just enjoy finding reasons myself. The main reason I get them, I guess, is that I like getting tattoos!
What inspired you to get your first tattoo, and have your reasons for getting tattooed changed as time has passed?
I got my first tattoo – a star on my back – when I was eighteen. I decided I was definitely a Marxist now, and took my copy of Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries to my local tattoo shop, and asked for the star on the front cover.
I no longer get tattoos due to Marxism! But I like my spirit back then, full of idealism. Maybe that hasn’t totally changed.
What has been the reaction to your tattoos by your world around you? If relevant, what have been the positive reactions, and what have been the negative?
My mum doesn’t like my tattoos, and I tend to cover them up as much as possible when I’m around her, although she doesn’t ask me to. My grandma says ‘You only live once’ and doesn’t mind them. In fact, she once told me she fancied getting a red rose on her shoulder.
Most reactions to my tattoos are positive (to my face, at least), and the only negative reactions I’ve had are from men. When I posted a picture of myself showing my tattoos on Facebook a few years ago, one guy commented on the picture saying: ‘What lovely tattoos. Fast forward twenty years: what an ugly old woman’. I get quite a few ‘concerned’ men telling me they’re worried about how I’ll look when I’m old. Bah. Luckily for them, I’m unlikely to be hanging out with them when I’m old, so they can rest easy.
Do you feel the reactions to your tattoos are any different as you’re a woman, than they would be for a man?
It’s hard for me to say as I haven’t experienced life as a tattooed man to compare it with, but I feel as though people feel entitled to comment on how my tattoos affect my perceived attractiveness more than if I was a man. I even had one man advising me not to wear a certain dress with my tattoos, because the patterns clashed…
I think the history of women and tattoos is really interesting – it has been extremely subversive, and the stereotype of the ‘tattooed lady’ has perhaps still not completely disappeared. There’s loads of interesting discussion about it online, including this article.
Questions I’ve been asked about my tattoos, include:
- “What are you going to do on your wedding day?”
- “How will you feel when you’re old?”
How would you answer these questions?
- I have so many issues with this question. For a start, why assume that just because someone is female, that they want to get married? I bet men aren’t asked the same thing (although admittedly men are expected to cover up more on their wedding day, whereas women are expected to wear a flimsy, revealing dress). Next, I feel as though many people think the aesthetics of a wedding (how the photos look after the event, etc.) are more important than the day itself. That’s not how I feel. I did happen to get married, and I picked out and bought my wedding dress a week before my wedding, with some money I had leftover after buying a tablecloth. It was no big deal for me. Much more important was how I felt about publicly pledging my love to my husband. Finally, of course, brides with tattoos look amazing, so there’s no problem.
Do you feel there are expectations regarding appearance and body type today?
Absolutely. I feel as though there are also these expectations within various subcultures
too, including the world of tattoos. There are problems, I think, with sexualisation of women with tattoos, for instance. For the most part, though, I think different body types and appearances are welcomed more openly among those with lots of tattoos. I hope that as tattoos continue to become more widespread that it stays that way.
Have your tattoos changed the way you view your body at all?
To begin with, I think getting big tattoos gave me confidence. It felt really empowering to take control of my body, to permanently change it in a way that I found appealing. I’m more used to having tattoos now, I think, and don’t feel that different either way.
Truthfully, and I’m not sure whether this is the sort of thing that I should say on this blog, but some days I wish I had no tattoos, and some days I wish my tattoos were different, and some days I wish I had more.
Some days I like having tattoos, and some days I don’t.* But I don’t regret getting them, as I’ve always thought I’d rather regret giving something a go than regret not giving it a go (within the bounds of what’s legal and moral, of course). It doesn’t matter how many lifetimes I was to live, I know I’d always end up getting tattoos, because I find them exciting, attractive, and mysterious (the way they just sit there in your dermis like that blows my mind). Tattoos have found their way under my skin, not just physically but emotionally too, and knowing that is empowering in itself.
* These feelings are by no means limited to tattoos, I might add. I feel like that about just about everything in my life. I’m always re-evaluating everything, coming to new conclusions, changing my mind and rewriting my hopes and dreams. This is part of what drives me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are there any tattoo artists you love above others?
A few of my big tattoos were done by Olivia Chell in Edinburgh and she is really fantastic.
My blackberry/rose tattoo was done by Joe Potter in Falmouth.
My kestrel was done at Rain City in Manchester.
I really love Amanda Leadman’s tattoos at Black 13 Tattoo studio in Nashville, and nearly booked one with her at last year’s Brighton Tattoo Convention, but then I wasn’t able to make it. I particularly like her botanical style tattoos. Next time she comes to the UK, I’m going to set a date!
Are you planning to get any more tattoos?
Yes, but they’re expensive, and I’m trying to buy a house at the moment, so bricks and mortar take precedence.
Do you think there’ll be a point when you’ll stop getting tattoos?
I think I’ll continue to get fewer tattoos as other things become more important in my life, but for now, I have plenty of tattoos planned for the future. As soon as I get a new one, I can see a new space that needs filling. It’s an addictive process. And really good fun, too.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve probably said more than enough!
Anneliese Mackintosh’s short story collection, Any Other Mouth, published by Freight, won The Green Carnation Prize in 2014. It was also shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize, Saltire Society’s First Book Award, and the Saboteur Award, and was a ‘Book Of The Year’ in The Herald, The Scotsman, Civilian, and The List Magazine, as well as one of The Guardian readers’ ‘Top Ten Books of 2014’. Anneliese’s forthcoming novel, So Happy It Hurts, will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2017. Her short fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland, and published in magazines and anthologies including The Scotsman, Edinburgh Review, and The Best British Short Stories 2013. Her website is at www.anneliesemackintosh.com.